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A Jet Tour Through the New Testament

One Body, Many Gifts, Part 2

1 Corinthians 12:15-31 October 10, 1976 1861


A. The Appeal of Rugged Individualism to the World

I am sure that you have seen the television commercial with the rugged, bearded, strong he-man type who runs around the woods with a big bear, advertising beer. There is a method in a commercial like that. It has a tremendous appeal to people because most people really admire rugged individualism. Here is a guy who has tamed a bear, who runs around the boondocks all by himself, and who doesn't need anything but a periodic delivery of six-packs. The same thing is true of the Marlboro ads on billboards. The Marlboro man is all alone on a horse out in the middle of nowhere -- the picture of rugged individualism. We honor people who go across the Atlantic Ocean in a dinghy, who make amazing solo flights, or who climb Mount Everest. We possess this mentality that says rugged individualism is the stuff which separates the men from the boys. We admire the scientist who walks out of his laboratory after ten years and says, "Eureka!" and receives a prize for what he has discovered. There is something that appeals to us about a person who can do something by himself and say, "I have conquered everything. I'm independent; I'm self-sufficient."

1. God's Desire for Dependence

Do you know why that appeals to us? We are depraved. You say, "What do you mean?" God wants us to have a tremendous sense of dependency on others. God wants us to be a family. When Cain had slain his brother Abel, God said to him, "Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said, I know not: am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4:9). Ever since the Fall, man has disdained the thought of responsibility for other people. Man has definitely desired to be independent of any responsibility. That is one of the reasons that God, in the Old Testament, made any individual who sinned carry a weight of responsibility that extended to his entire family (e.g., Achan; Josh. 7). God was communicating a message: "You are your brother's keeper. You are dependent on other people. I don't want rugged individualism."

2. Satan's Desire for Independence

Satan, in response, has built into the heart of man this concept of independence -- needing nothing and nobody -- as the epitome of life. The fact is that this is the very opposite of what God wants. The philosophy of today is: "Do your own thing." The music of today is: "I did it my way." All of this echoes the same philosophy that is echoed by the man with the bear and the beer: You don't need anyone or anything -- you are sufficient. It is the philosophy in the poem Invictus, which says that I am the captain of my fate and the master of my soul.

B. The Attitude of Rugged Individualism in the Church

This attitude pervades our society to the degree that it even finds its way into the church. We tend to translate a little of this philosophy into our theology. We think that because we have Christ and the Holy Spirit, we are sufficient and we don't need anyone else. It is then that we have missed the point altogether. Since we don't live communally, as they did in the Old Testament when they lived in tribes, or as they did in the New Testament when they still lived in the father's house, Christians have fostered the same independent attitude from the world. So, in the backlash of all of this, the church struggles today to try and regain the concept that the church is one body with many members. We have a tremendous responsibility for dependency on each other, and that has to be the general attitude for the Christian life.

1. The Proponents of Interdependence

a. Jesus

I suppose that there will be some people who will say, "Look at Jesus. He was a rugged individualist." Was He? Jesus spent the first thirty years of His life living with His family. I don't think He ever left and lived on His own. The next three years of His life He spent with twelve men in the midst of His ministry.

b. Paul

You say, "But Paul was a rugged individualist." No, I don't think Paul ever went anywhere without somebody going with him. I don't like to go anywhere without some company. I like to have someone to lean on, someone to minister to me, and someone to whom I can minister, pray with, share with, and labor with. I'm sure Paul felt the same. In Romans 16:1- 15 Paul lists the names of the many people who helped him, who accompanied him, whom he loved, and who ministered to him, with him, and for him. In Colossians 4:7-17 there is a similar list. In 2 Timothy 4:9-21 there are more names. In the Book of Acts, Paul starts out with Barnabas (Ac. 13:2), then John Mark (Ac. 13:13), then Silas (Ac. 15:40), then Timothy (Ac. 16:3), and then Luke. Someone was usually sharing in the ministry with him -- someone with whom he could minister, someone to whom he could pour out his heart, and someone for whom he could be a source of strength.

There is no place in God's plan or in biblical theology for rugged individualism. There is no reason to think that you are isolated. You are your brother's keeper.

2. The Problem with Individualism

Sadly, there are many Christians today who just don't get into the mainstream of this ministry. There are usually two problems:

a. The Individualism of Isolation

There are some Christians who feel inferior and unnecessary, so they sit on the fringe and don't ever become involved. But God loves them, and so do their brothers and sisters in Christ. They think they don't matter much, so they are just content to hang on the fringe and never get involved. But they short-circuit the ministry of the Spirit of God through their life to somebody desperately in need of it.

b. The Individualism of Pride

Then there are other people who say, "Well, I am a spiritual celebrity and superstar. I don't need all these people, I can do it on my own." We all fight that kind of attitude. Sometimes, after I have preached a message, someone will come up to me and say, "You really blew it on that one." My first reaction is, "Who needs you, fella? I can handle it." Or I will come into my office on Monday and say to someone, "Great day yesterday. I really feel God blessed." Then I open my mail and someone writes, "You so-and-so...." I think to myself, "Who needs it? I know what I'm doing. I don't need your criticism." But that's my first response. Then, after thinking about it, I say, "Well, Lord, they are probably right." And I begin to realize that God puts all of these people around me to minister to me, and to keep things in perspective. That is the way it has to be.

You have to realize that there is no place for the individualism of isolation or the individualism of a superstar attitude. Both of those attitudes are wrong. There should be a tremendous sense of interdependence in the body of Christ that defies the spirit of pride and the attitude of inferiority.


This is Paul's major message in 1 Corinthians 12. He uses the familiar metaphor of a human body, then makes an application, and then a final appeal. So, these are the three points we want to look at: The Analogy, The Application, and The Appeal. These three will draw a great truth out of this idea of interdependence and mutuality within the body of Christ.

In the last lesson we looked at...

I. THE ANALOGY (vv. 12-26, 28a)

Paul's analogy is a body. An analogy is simply another way of saying something. He wants to state a spiritual truth but he says it in another way by using the illustration of a human body. He develops the analogy along four lines: A human body illustrates unity, diversity, sovereignty, and harmony. These four things sum up what a human body is and illustrate what the church ought to be.

A. Unity (vv. 12-13)

"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to Spirit."

Basically, Christians are one. There are not any upper- and lower- class Christians. There are not any highbrow and lowbrow Christians. There are no social strata involved. There is just a beautiful unity. We all have flowing through us the life of God -- eternal life (Gk. aionios zoe). There is a beautiful unity in the body of Christ, and a human body is the same. A common life principle flows through every cell in the human body.

B. Diversity (v. 14)

"For the body is not one member, but many."

The body has unity and it has diversity. But it must maintain its diversity in order to experience its unity.

C. Sovereignty (vv. 18, 24b, 28a)

"But now hath God set the members, every one of them, in the body, as it hath pleased Him....but God hath tempered the body together.... And God hath set some in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers..."

You can see God's sovereignty when your children are born. You wonder with your wife or your husband what your baby will look like. They now have X-rays where they are supposed to be able to determine many things about your child. There are many tests that can be run, but basically you don't know what your baby is going to be like until all of a sudden the life is there in front of you, and then you have to say it is by sovereign design. God put the child together. If it is a perfectly whole baby with ears that stick out a little, red hair, and a certain kind of nose, God made the baby in that way. Certainly there are genetic factors involved, but the child is still a creation of God independent of any effort on your part. A body is designed by God. If the child is born with an infirmity, or a malformation, or is malfunctioning, again that has to be assigned to the sovereign will of God -- that which is beyond your ability to control.

The same thing is true of the body of the church. The origination of the various members, their design, the way in which they are gifted, and the way they are placed into the body, is all dependent upon God.

The Dysfunction of Harmony

According to God's plan, unity, diversity, and sovereignty make the body function. Now, where those three things function, there will be a fourth -- harmony. But there will never be harmony until the other three are functioning. For example, the Corinthians...

1. Did Not Experience Unity

Paul said to them in verses 12-13 that they ought to have unity because there was no such thing as either Jew or Greek or bond or free. They were all one. But they weren't acting that way. First Corinthians 1:10 says, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." In other words, get it together. According to verses 11-12 there were contentions over certain spiritual teachers. In chapter 3 he repeats the same thing, saying that they were carnal because there was envy and strife. One was saying that he was of Paul, another of Apollos -- they were carnal (vv. 3-4). In chapter 4 they were glorying as if they possessed something they had earned (v. 7). They had spiritual pride. In chapter 6 they were suing each other in acts of antagonism, bitterness, resentment, and revenge. In chapter 8 they were using their liberty to defraud each other. They were stepping on the neck of the weaker brother in their pride and independence. In chapter 11 the rich came to the love feast and instead of sharing their meal, they ate it, so that when the poor came there wasn't anything left for them to eat. So you can see that there existed anything but unity.

Implied in chapter 12 is that instead of ministering their gifts, the proud people were saying, "We are the only ones that matter." The humble people were saying, "We don't matter; we don't have the right gifts." So they were trying to seek for the ecstatic gifts and wound up with the pagan counterfeits. They had destroyed the whole concept of unity.

2. Did Not Function in Diversity

According to chapter 12, all the Corinthians were trying to obtain the same ecstatic and showy gift instead of recognizing that God had ordered them to be independent and individuals in the sense of their uniqueness. Everybody was trying to be a spiritual hotshot.

3. Denied Sovereignty

Instead of accepting what God had given, they were discontent with what He had given and were seeking other gifts, manifestations, and experiences.  So, they had violated all three; consequently, harmony did not exist.

Having straightened the Corinthians out about unity in verses 12- 13, diversity in verse 14, and sovereignty in verses 18, 24, and 28, Paul now moves on beginning at verse 15 to talk about...

D. Harmony

Paul dives into this concept of harmony by showing the foolishness of anything other than harmony. He covers it from two angles: First, the people who thought they were nothing and envied the ones who had the showy gifts; and second, the people with the showy gifts who thought they were something and thought the other people were nothing. Let's look first of all at...

1. The Disharmony of Inferiority (vv. 15-20)

Here are the people who feel that they are nothing -- the gripers, the envious, the ones who felt cheated.

a. The Requirement in the Physical Body (vv. 15-17)

1) The Principle: Removal Is Impossible (vv. 15-16)

a) The Perspective of the Foot (v. 15)

"If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body?"

The foot is not particularly beautiful or lovely. If you were smart, you generally covered up your feet, especially if you happened to live in that day and age when the feet were usually exposed. The foot was considered a rather ugly thing. So the thinking is: "I am just that out-of-the-way thing usually covered by dirt and not seen. When I am seen, I am not worth seeing. Since I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body."

Now, what is Paul saying -- what is the principle? The principle is this: No member, by complaining and depreciating his own importance, can accomplish removal from the body. Just because you think that you are not important, it does not eliminate your responsibility to function in the way that God called you to. You cannot sit in a corner and say, "Since I am a foot, and I don't have what some others have, I am not going to do anything or be a part of anything." That does not remove you from being a part, that only makes you disobedient. The principle is: You cannot remove yourself from a God-given responsibility simply because you are not happy with who you are. But, that isn't the way it is. God made you a foot, if that is what you are, because the foot is vital -- critical. To say that you don't want to be responsible for what you are doesn't relieve you of any responsibility; it only makes you disobedient.

This is exactly what was going on at Corinth. There were a lot of feet sitting in the background saying, "I wish I was an ear, or an eye...even a hand wouldn't be half bad. At least it's a little ways up the ladder."

b) The Perspective of the Ear (v. 16)

"And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body?"

A little higher in the body, and it is still relative. Some ear is saying, "I wish I could be an eye. But since I'm only an ear, I'm cutting out. They don't need me." Does that remove you from responsibility? When a foot is jealous of a hand, does that remove the responsibility of the foot from being a foot? When the ear is jealous of the eye, does that eliminate its responsibility? Not in God's eyes. Whatever your gift is, it is essential, it is needed, and God wants it. It has to be in the body and it has to operate. There is no sense sitting in a corner and saying, "Well, I don't have that much to offer anyway; there's no sense in me getting involved." But so many Christians do exactly that. Some of you do it. Some of you have been doing it for years. You have never known the joy of ministry because you just thought nobody wanted feet or ears. But that isn't so.

2) The Problem: Reorganization Is Irrational (v. 17)

"If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?"

It would not make a lot of sense if everybody had the same gift. Yet isn't it amazing that people today keep telling us that we all need to get the same gifts. It's not true. There is no place in the body for envying another gift. First Corinthians 13:4 says, " [love] envieth not...." But there is a place for contentment.

You cannot have one organ. The body cannot just be an eye, or an ear, or a nose. One organ, no matter how prominent it is, cannot survive alone. You can't cut off your ear, set it down, and say, "I have to leave. Would you hang around and listen? Maybe you can pick up some information while I'm gone." You can't pluck out your eye and have it look around for you while you are sleeping. There is no such thing as a spiritual loner.


Behind the Scenes

There is a tremendous sense of dependence in the body of Christ. In Grace Community Church there are a number of people behind the scenes who make it possible for me to speak to you. All the people who type up things for me, all the people who give me input, and all the people who turn machines on and off make it all possible. There are many people who take upon themselves responsibilities, that normally would be mine, in order to free me to prepare so that I can minister to you. Without those people, I would not be able to say what I say to you, and you would not be able to receive what I say and grow. As a result, the whole purpose of ministry would be reduced.

So, Paul says that all members cannot be the same.

b. The Reality in the Spiritual Body (vv. 18-20)

1) The Plan of God (v. 18)

"But now hath God set the members, every one of them, in the body, as it hath pleased Him."

God didn't leave the body for us to figure out. He didn't say, "Get organized!" He said, "Be an organism and I will run it!"

2) The Peril of No Body (v. 19)

"And if they were all one member, where were the body?"

If everyone were the same, we would not have a body. But the Corinthians were saying, "We all have to chase after tongues. We all have to speak in prophecies. We all have to experience ecstasies." They were all after the same gifts. So Paul says, "All that you are going to end up with is one great big eye."

3) The Point of Paul (v. 20)

"But now are they many members, yet but one body."

Paul sums up his main point: Don't think yourself inferior. Do not underestimate your own importance.

2. The Disharmony of Superiority (vv. 21-26)

In verses 21-26 Paul's point is: Don't think yourself superior. Do not overestimate your importance.

a. Examining the Members (vv. 21-23)

1) The External Superiority (v. 21)

"And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you."

So far we have moved from the foot, to the hand, to the ear, and to the eye; now we are moving from the eye, to the ear, to the hand, to the foot. We are going back down the body from the viewpoint of superiority. This was what was going on in the Corinthian assembly -- many people were overestimating their importance. The people with the fancy, showy, public speaking gifts were assuming that they did not need the other people -- those who were nothing. They were the superstars; they were the celebrities; they were the superiors; they were the leaders; and they were the hotshots. As far as they were concerned, the rest of the people could just disintegrate into oblivion and it would have had no effect. That isn't right. You can't say, "I have no need of you." There is a tremendous need for dependence in the body.

2) The Internal Support (vv. 22-23)

a) Recognizing the Necessity of the Feeble Members (v. 22)

"Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble, are necessary"

Eyes and ears and hands and feet are nice, but you can live without eyes, ears, hands, and feet. Even the members that are showy, external, and strong, you can live without. But there are weak members that you can't live without -- they are more vital.

In verse 22 Paul talks about the members of the body that are "more feeble." That means that they are weaker. Now, in this metaphor we are moving deeper into the body. Since verse 21 is dealing with hands and feet and eyes and ears (the outward), this part of the metaphor takes us deeper into the less showy, the less obvious, the less out-front, the less comely, the less prominent members. They are more feeble, but they are necessary.

What are these organs? They are the internal organs of the body -- the lungs, the stomach, the liver, the kidneys, and all the other organs. These internal organs are completely hidden from view, yet they are vital and essential to sustaining life. So, in this sense they are weaker. The only protection afforded them is from the other parts of the body. Paul is saying, "There are some members who are so feeble that they are totally dependent on the protection of some of the other members. They are not intended to be out front." You wouldn't live very long if you went around with your lungs hanging outside of you. They would not be able to handle the environment.

When I think about this verse, I think about the support ministries, particularly the secretaries at Grace Community Church. This church is a very intense place during the week. We have four or five crises a day. There are deadlines all the time. I believe that the secretaries, for the most part, would never be able to maintain a sense of mental balance if they didn't have some of us to protect them from the onslaught. Sometimes the frustrations mount, and since they are the gentler members of the body, they need the protection of someone else in order to function smoothly and effectively. But if the staff walked away and left all of the onslaught to hit them, it would be difficult for them. They are the members who are necessary and vital. You don't even know who they are, but without them, I would not be able to minister.

b) Recognizing the Needs of the Lesser Members (v. 23)

"And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness."

The Corinthians had failed to be kind, considerate, and protective of those who did not have the gift of prophecy, or the gift of languages, or the gift of healing -- the out-front gifts. In addition, they had failed to protect the weaker ones, according to verse 22. So, in verse 23 Paul says, "Don't you realize that even a human body compensates for its less comely members?"

Now what does Paul mean by the two terms "less honorable" and "uncomely"? About the clearest definition of "uncomely" is "ugly."

Now, it doesn't mean horrible-looking, ugly things, it just means "the less beautiful parts." What do the less honorable and less beautiful parts refer to?

(1) Less Honorable

Most commentators assume this to be the middle part of your body -- your trunk, hips, shoulders, thighs -- the part you put your clothes on. Now, your face is nice to look at and enjoy, so you don't cover it up. And your hands are fine to look at, and so are your feet. But you cover up certain parts of your body because they are not as appealing. So Paul is saying that you bestow more abundant honor on your less honorable members. It is just a normal human response to fix up the part that needs it.

Some magazine articles will tell you, depending on your build, what kind of clothes to wear. If you are a little wide in a particular place, don't wear the squares, wear the stripes. That is the way people compensate for the less honorable parts -- they bestow more honor on them. You might throw down your charge card and buy seventy-five dollars worth of abundant honor to drape over your less honorable parts. That is compensation. What is the principle? The less the natural grace and appeal, the greater the effort to adorn it.

So we have discussed the external, which doesn't need much adornment; then we discussed the more feeble parts -- the internal organs which are protected by the strength of the others; and then we discussed the parts of your body that you need to adorn with honor. Now he goes a step further.

(2) Uncomely

The Greek word for "uncomely" means "indecent." In other words, our indecent parts have more abundant comeliness. It is a normal, human reaction to cover the private or indecent parts of the human body, not just for the sake of adornment, but for the sake of modesty with even a greater amount of effort. To show you how far away we have gone from what is normally human, just look at our society today. Those parts of the human body which mankind has long known to be private, and which ought to be covered with honor so that they can be held in modesty, are now exploited. That just shows how far our depravity has gone.

The point is this: the behind-the-scenes part of the body should get the special attention and devotion. Paul is saying, "It is not the place for the highbrow members of the body to say, `I don't need you.' That member of the body ought to say, `I know that I am the only protection you have. I want to care for you and bestow more honor on you. And the more you need that honor, the more I want to give you that honor.' Instead of living with the attitude of spiritual, rugged individualism, we really should be busy making sure that we stop to honor the people who don't normally receive the honor." That is the kind of love that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13. You should not be living with a sense of spiritual independence, but constantly acknowledging your gratitude for those parts of the church of Jesus Christ that don't receive all the glamour and appeal. They are in the church, and they are vital. They need to have the other members love them, protect them, and honor them.

So this analogy works both ways: God doesn't want the people who are sitting in the corner thinking they are nothing, and He doesn't want the other people thinking they are everything but passing around the honor where it belongs. Dr. Robert Thomas says, "It is a distorted sense of values when a Christian, well known because of his well received speaking gift, looks disparagingly at other Christians who possess no such gift. This is direct contradiction of the principle of self-concern that characterizes any body. It is far more consistent with the principle of self-preservation that members possessing greater beauty and functional ability, devote themselves tirelessly to the well-being of those not so well equipped." That is essentially what Paul is saying. Instead of thinking ourselves sufficient and independent, it is up to us to minister to others, and for others to respond to that ministry by ministering to us in return. And it is also up to us to say, "We want to help you where you are weak and to strengthen you where you need to be strong." That is the kind of thing Paul wants. We ought to recognize the necessity of this because God sees a beautiful equality in the body.

b. Equalizing the Members (v. 24)

"For our comely parts have no need; but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked"

You may be a beautiful eye, ear, hand, or foot, but you could be cut off and the rest of the body would still survive. But if you happen to be one of the vital organs, you can't be removed because you are too important. This is how God equalizes the members. In the long run, when the judgment is in and the rewards are given, the people with the showy gifts aren't nearly as vital as the people with the support ministries.

One of the most exciting events of the ages and one of the most shocking experiences we will ever have is the bema (the Judgment Seat of Christ), when we see who gets the rewards (1 Cor. 4:5). I think most of us will be shocked. Jesus said, "...for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great" (Lk. 9:48b), and "...whosoever of you would be the chiefest, shall be servant of all" (Mk. 10:44). There are some of us who are eyes and ears and mouths and noses -- we are the comely parts -- but God equalizes our honor because the less conspicuous members are the more essential to life. Nobody can see internal organs, so we usually think of people in terms of outward beauty, but that isn't what makes them what they are. The same thing is true in the church. God wants all the honor equalized.

c. Encouraging the Members (vv. 25-26)

"That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it."

God wants us all equalized. God wants this beautiful unity. He has designed this compensation in order that there might be a real unity. When your body suffers, you don't say, "Well, this half of me is suffering but this half feels terrific." If any part of you suffers, your whole body suffers. And if any part of you is happy, your whole being is rejoicing. If we are truly sharing, that is the way it will be in the body of Christ.

So Paul says, "Don't feel inferior! You are vital; you are necessary; you are important; and you are to be rewarded for faithfulness. And don't feel superior! You may be the out-front, good-looking part -- that's your ministry for now, and there are certain blessings attendant with that ministry -- but you cannot disdain the other parts because they are the more necessary to life." So, rivalry is impossible in the body of Christ. The only thing that is possible is love, and that becomes Paul's theme in the next chapter.

That was Paul's analogy. Now let's look at...


A. Remember Your Unity (v. 27)

"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."

It is interesting that Paul calls one local congregation "the body of Christ." Is Paul saying, "You are the whole body of Christ, and everyone else is outside of the body?" Or is he saying, "You are one body of Christ, and there is another body in this town, and another body in that town?" No, there is only one body. Paul is saying, "You are a miniature representation of the body of Christ. As a local assembly, you can manifest the fullness of the body of Christ." That is so encouraging to me. In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul said, " come behind in no gift..." (v. 7). Isn't it thrilling to know that each local assembly of believers is given, by the Spirit of God, all that is necessary to truly represent the body of Christ so that His image may be seen in the world? We don't need to say, "We are half of the body over here and the other half is down there. If we could just get together, we could get the whole body moving." God manifests the total picture in individual congregations, and supplies each one with all they need. So, Paul says, "God has made you one, and He has poured you together in diversity. You are what you ought to be by God's sovereign will."

B. Remember Your Diversity (v. 28)

"And God hath set some in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues [languages] ."

C. Remember God's Sovereignty (vv. 29-30)

"Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues [languages] ? Do all interpret?"

Now, what is the answer to every question? No.

So, Paul says in verse 27, "Remember your unity. You are the body I am talking about." In verse 28 he says, "Remember your diversity. You are the people with all of these different gifts." In verses 29-30 he says, "Remember God's sovereignty. He doesn't want you all to be Apostles, or prophets, or teachers, or miracle workers, or healers, or all of you to speak in languages or interpreting languages." Paul confronts the Corinthians at the same three points: unity, diversity, and sovereignty. In other words, "Why are all of you trying to be noses and ears and eyes? Why do you all want to be Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, tongues speakers, and healers? Don't you know that God has called some of you to be teachers and helpers and workers in the area of administration? It is all by God's sovereign design. You have nothing to seek for; you have nothing to be envious of; and you have nothing to be proud about and so disdain the others." As a result of unity, diversity, and God's sovereignty, they should experience harmony. So Paul applies the analogy. Last, he makes...


"But covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way."

When you read that verse you want to say, "You mean that Paul just spent all of his time in those verses saying to be content with the gift you have, and now he turns right around and says to covet earnestly the better gifts?" Literally, he means "the showy gifts." This verse is used by people from the Pentecostal tradition to prove that we ought to seek for the gift of tongues and other gifts because this verse says to covet earnestly the best gifts. They say that it is a command. When I look at that verse, I say, "It cannot be." Paul would not spend all this time in verses 1-30 saying, "Be content with what you have. Don't seek another gift. It has all been accomplished by God's sovereign plan. Just take the gift you have and use it. Don't feel inferior. Don't feel superior," and then say, "Go covet the showy gifts." What is Paul saying?

A. Start a New Practice (v. 31b)

"...and yet show I unto you a more excellent way."

What was the way of the Corinthians? They had no unity, no sense of diversity (everybody was seeking the same gift), and no sense of sovereignty -- they were not willing to accept God's plan. So Paul says, "I'm showing you a more excellent way -- unity, diversity, sovereignty, and harmony. And then I'm going to show you that the body functions in love" (1 Cor. 13). You say, "But what about that first statement?"

B. Stop the Old Practice (v. 31a)

"But covet earnestly the best gifts..."

In the Greek language a statement of fact is called the indicative mood, while a command is called the imperative mood. Now, the form that each of these take in the Greek is the very same -- there is no difference. So, in the Greek, this verse is either a command or a statement; there is no difference in the form. It either says, "Covet earnestly the best gifts," or it says, "But you are coveting the best gifts." Now which of these do you think fits the context? There is no question: "But you are coveting the best gifts and yet I show you a more excellent way." The Greek verb zeloo normally has a bad connotation when it is translated covet.

So, the indicative mood is the normal sense of the Greek in this passage and fits the context, and it should be translated this way: "But you are coveting the showy gifts, and yet I am showing you a more excellent way." Do you see the point? Paul is not saying to chase after spiritual gifts; he is saying, "You are chasing after spiritual gifts, and that is what is wrong with you. Stop doing it, and do the excellent thing. Accept the unity, diversity, sovereignty, and harmony that God has already planned, presented, and built into the body." And the key to all of the operation of the body is love.

Focusing on the Facts

1. Why does the concept of rugged individualism appeal to people? 

2. What message is God trying to get across to man? What is Satan's response to that? 

3. Why have Christians fostered the same attitude as the world in regard to rugged individualism? 

4. Why would Jesus or Paul not be considered rugged individualists? 

5. Who are the two types of Christians who do not look out for their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Why do they have an individualistic attitude? 

6. What three things must function in order for harmony to exist? Why weren't the Corinthians experiencing harmony? Explain.

7. In what two ways does Paul cover the concept of harmony? 

8. What is the principle that Paul puts forward in 1 Corinthians 12:15? 

9.What is the point that Paul draws out of 1 Corinthians 12:15-20? 

10. What is the point that Paul wants to make in 1 Corinthians 12:21-26? 

11. What exactly are the "more feeble" members of the body? What is their only protection (1 Cor. 12:22)?

12. What is Paul referring to by the use of the terms "less honorable" and "uncomely" (1 Cor. 12:23)?

13. What does Paul mean by the phrase "bestow more abundant honor" (1 Cor. 12:23)?

14. The less the _______ _____ and ______, the greater the effort to _____ it. 

15. What kind of attitude should the members of the body with the showy gifts have toward the weaker members? 

16. How does God equalize the honor for all the members of the body? 

17. Why does Paul call this one local congregation in Corinth "the body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27)?

18. What three things does Paul want the Corinthians to remember in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30? 

19. What was the "more excellent way" that Paul was showing the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12:31)?

20. Is 1 Corinthians 12:31 a statement of fact or a command? How do you know? What is the best translation of this verse? 

Pondering the Principles

1. Do you consider yourself to be an independent or dependent person? Does the appeal of rugged individualism affect your life-style? Look up the following verses: Romans 13:1; Ephesians 5:21; 6:1; Colossians 3:22; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:5. What do these verses tell you about the dependence Christians should have? Who should we be dependent on? Look up the following verses: Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:21; 4:1; 1 Peter 5:1-4. What do these verses tell you about the interdependence among Christians? Who are the subjects of these verses? Who should they be dependent on? Read Matthew 20:25-28 and Philippians 2:3-7. What should be the attitude of every Christian? Who is our example? What do you need to start doing in order to become a more dependent Christian?

2. Do you sometimes think that you have an inferiority complex? Do you feel as if you would like to serve the body of Christ in some way, but that in the long run you would fail? Look up the following verses: Exodus 3:2-15; Judges 6:1-16; Jeremiah 1:4-19. The great men of God mentioned in these verses each had an inferiority complex at one time. What changed their attitudes? In order to have the proper perspective on your ability to serve God, memorize 2 Corinthians 3:5: "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God."

3. What should your perspective be on the various gifts that the various members of the body possess? Which gifts are the most important? Which ones are necessary? Which ones can the body survive without? In what areas do you feel God has gifted you? Are you a necessary part of the body of Christ? What should be your attitude toward all the other members of the body of Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 12:25? Think through some ways that you might be able to implement this perspective in your daily walk.

4. Based on this series of lessons on spiritual gifts, write down the things you have learned regarding this subject. In order to build up the fellow members of the body, be sure to share your insights.